Landmark SC judgment on release of undertrials languishing in jails for years

By Staff Reporter,

New Delhi: On Friday, the Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment that will open doors of freedom for many under trial prisoners, who have already spent in jail more than half of the period of the sentence they would have got if convicted for the offences they are charged with.

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The apex court bench headed by Chief Justice R.M. Lodha said that judicial officers of the districts will visit the jails under their jurisdiction once a week to look into such cases and order the release of such undertrial prisoners.

The court said that two months’ drive, starting from Oct 1, will see a sessions judge and judicial officers subordinate to him visiting the jails under their jurisdiction to examine such cases and ordering the undertrials’ release.

Ordering the next date of hearing of the case Dec 8, the court said that on the completion of the two-month exercise, the registrar generals of the high courts will send the report on the exercise and undertrial prisoners released to the secretary general of the Supreme Court.

Although it’s not clear, if an accused in charged under IPC in which maximum punishment is life sentence, wild also be considered in first phase, but it no doubts open doors for undertrials many of whom are languishing in jails for over decades due to lengthy judicial process. There are even instances where poor persons could not be released as they did not have money to fill the bail bond.

According to the latest data (2012) of the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), of the total 3, 85,135 jail inmates overwhelmingly 2, 54,857 (66.2% of total inmates) are under-trials. 95.4% of total undertrials (2,43,055) are males, while rest of 11,802 (4.6%) are females. 3,984 undertrials are foreigners, of whom 3,486 are male and 498 females.

Maximum number of undertrials (37.7%) was detained for up to 3 months during 2012, while a total of 2,028 undertrials (0.8% of total undertrials) were detained in jails for more than 5 years at the end of the year 2012. Uttar Pradesh had the highest number of such undertrials (324) followed by Punjab (317).

A total of 8,706 undertrial prisoners were lodged beyond 3 years and upto 5 years and 2,028 undertrials for 5 years or more were lodged in jail across the country at the end of the year 2012.

It may be mentioned that except Goa, Gujarat, Punjab, Uttarakhand, A&N Islands and Daman & Diu, the highest percentage of undertrial prisoners were detained for less than three months in most of the States / UTs indicating good number of release of older undertrials from prisons during 2012.

The highest percentage of detention upto 3 months was reported in Andhra Pradesh (92.4%) followed by Mizoram (81.1%), Tripura (73.3%), each Kerala and Assam (65.9%), Puducherry (52.3%), West Bengal (48.9%) and Chandigarh (46.5%).

In terms of absolute numbers, Uttar Pradesh (17,425) followed by Andhra Pradesh (7,901), Madhya Pradesh (7,441), Bihar (7,432), West Bengal (6,830) and Maharashtra (6,532) reported the higher number of undertrials detained upto three months.

Significant number of prisoners was detained for 3 months to a year. Uttar Pradesh has reported the highest number of inmates (4,069) detained for a period of 2 to 3 years followed by Bihar (1,571). The percentage of undertrial prisoners detained for 2 to 3 years was less than 10% of the total undertrials in all the States/UTs except A&N Islands (26.5%), Jammu & Kashmir (10.8%), Uttarakhand (10.7%), Goa (10.4%) and Gujarat (10.2%).


Of the total of 2,02,762 undertrial prisoners from various States and UTs lodged in jails for committing crimes under IPC, 54,715 persons were lodged as undertrials for committing murder which accounted for the highest share of 27.0% of the total undertrial prisoners in the country.

The six States of UP, MP, Bihar, Karnataka, Mahrashtra and Odisha taken together accounted for 53.0% of the total undertrial prisoners under crime head murder in the country. The highest number of undertrial prisoners for murder was reported from Uttar Pradesh (8,594) followed by Madhya Pradesh (4,746), Bihar (4,315), Karnataka (4,081), Maharashtra (3,647), and Odisha (3,608).

Theft and attempt to murder are the next two IPC crimes which contributed large number of undertrial prisoners. A total of 23,357 for theft and 21,568 for attempt to murder were lodged as undertrials prisoners. The highest share of 18.2% and 22.3% of the total undertrial prisoners under theft and attempt to murder respectively were lodged in Uttar Pradesh. However, the lowest share of undertrial prisoners (0.2%) (i.e. 469 out of 2,02,762) under Insult to the modesty of women was reported in various jails during 2012.

The number of undertrial prisoners has also increased by 5.7% in 2012 (2,54,857) over 2011 (2,41,200). Three major States, namely Rajasthan (10.7%), Kerala (10.3%) and Karnataka (7.9%) have reported an increase in undertrial inmates population in the year 2012 over 2011.


Special and Local Laws (SLL) : A total of 52,066 prisoners were lodged as undertrial prisoners in various jails of the country for committing crimes under Special and Local Laws as compared to 2,02,762 undertrial prisoners for committing IPC crimes. Thus the share of undertrial prisoners under SLL was 20.4% of total undertrial prisoners (IPC offences and SLL offences combined).

The highest number of undertrial prisoners (14,361) was reported under The NDPS Act which accounted for 27.6% of the total undertrial prisoners under SLL. This was followed by The Arms Act (17.6%) and The Excise Act (11.8%). Uttar Pradesh has reported the highest number of undertrials (3,591) under The NDPS Act which accounted for 25.0% of the total undertrial prisoners under The NDPS Act in the country. However, the percentage share of undertrial prisoners reported under The Foreign Exchange Regulation Act was the lowest 0.10% (50 out of 52,066).

Poverty and lack of awareness are often the main reasons behind the high number of undertrials, as accused often do not have access to legal support system. Although it is difficult to assess the economic background of all undertrials, but their educational qualifications can be noted as a reflection of their seocio-economic status.

A total of 76,626 (30.1%) undertrial prisoners were illiterate and 1,10,385 (43.3%) were educated below class Xth standard out of 2,54,857 undertrials lodged in various jails in the country. These two categories taken together constitute 73.4% of the total undertrial inmates.


Uttar Pradesh had reported the highest number of undertrial prisoners who were graduates (2,824) followed by Bihar (1,246), Maharashtra (1,134), Punjab (995) and Rajasthan (910). Maximum of post graduate undertrials (776) were also lodged in Uttar Pradesh prisons followed by Maharashtra (427), Rajasthan (399), Punjab (360) and Madhya Pradesh (208).

Large number of Muslims in Jail:

Classification of undertrial prisoners professing different faiths revealed that 69.9% (1, 78,119 out of 2,54,857) of them adhered to Hindu religion while 21.0% (53,638 out of 2,54,857) were from the Muslim community and the rest belonged to other religions. The percentage of Muslim population is 13.1%, according to the 2001 Census (Religion wise data of 2011 Census is not yet out). analysis of data of the NCRB from year 2001 to 2012, has been found that the percentage of Muslims in prisons of the total prison population was always greater than the share of Indian Muslims in the country’s population.

According to TCN analysis, average shares of Muslim convicts, under trials and detenues during year 2002 to 2012 were 17.82%, 22.7% and 31.29%, respectively whereas average share of unspecified Muslim prisoners under ‘Others’ category was marked as 37.06%.

The analysis on the basis of caste based classification of undertrial prisoners reveals that 34.5% (88,037 out of 2,54,857) and 29.7% (75,723 out of 2,54,857) of undertrial prisoners belonged to General and OBC categories respectively. 22.4% (57,197) of undertrials belonged to Scheduled Castes while 13.3% (33,900) belonged to Scheduled Tribes.

There are total of 1,394 jails in India many of which are overcrowded.

(All Data and Tables taken from the NCRB 2012 Prison Statistics. Additional reports from IANS.)


Discrimination main reason behind high number of Muslims in prisons

Muslims comprise of 48 % of jail inmates in WB